John Lennon wrote the sweeping lullaby “Good Night” for the White Album, but he didn’t sing the song. Typically, he would sing the songs he wrote, but he passed this one off to Ringo Starr. According to Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, this was a shame. He explained that Lennon sang a beautiful demo of the song. He didn’t find Starr’s version of the song nearly as impressive.
John Lennon let Ringo Starr sing lead on a song he wrote
Work on the White Album was, for the most part, a nightmare for everyone involved. Band relations were frosty when they weren’t outright hostile, and everyone in the studio was exhausted and fed up. Therefore, the introduction of Lennon’s “Good Night” came as a pleasant surprise.
“[J]ohn surprised us all with the unveiling of his lush ballad ‘Good Night,’” Emerick wrote in his book Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles. “Like ‘Across the Universe,’ the song showed his softer side, a stark contrast to the screamer he had belted out just the night before. It ably demonstrated the depth of his abilities as both a songwriter and a performer, which was really quite astonishing.”
Lennon impressed everyone when he sang the song. It came as a surprise, then, when he announced that he wanted Starr to sing it for the album. Emerick thought this decision was regrettable, as Starr’s vocals didn’t compare to Lennon’s.
“John had made a demo for Ringo to take home and practice to, and it was played back a couple of times that night,” Emerick wrote, adding that the band demoed many of the White Album songs. “It’s a shame that this particular tape has been lost to the world, and that nobody will ever hear the gorgeous way John sang his tender little song. In comparison, I really don’t think Ringo did the song justice. Nonetheless, it was one of the best vocals he ever did.”
Why did John Lennon let Ringo Starr sing ‘Good Night’?
Lennon didn’t explicitly state why he gave the song to Starr. Still, both Emerick and Paul McCartney had a similar theory. They didn’t think Lennon wanted to show this level of tenderness to the public.
“It’s hard to imagine that John actually thought Ringo could do a better job on it than he could — he knew as well as anyone that Ringo was no singer,” Emerick wrote. “Perhaps it was that he was embarrassed at singing such a gentle lullaby — maybe it wasn’t macho enough for him — or perhaps he made the decision just to keep Ringo happy because he had sensed some disquiet in the usually placid drummer.”
McCartney agreed, noting that Lennon might have thought the song wasn’t good for his image.
Geoff Emerick said The Beatles showed surprising unity while working on ‘Good Night’
Emerick admired “Good Night” as a song, and he also appreciated the unity The Beatles showed while recording it. This was a rarity at this stage in their careers.
“During the rehearsal run-throughs, John and Yoko stayed up in the control room while the other three Beatles remained down in the studio with George Martin, who played piano while Paul and George Harrison coached their drummer on phrasing and pitching,” Emerick wrote. “This created a unity that had rarely been present in these sessions.”
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